Masked Dancers

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Jean Hager, who lives in Tulsa, is a five-time winner of the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Teepee Award and was named Oklahoma Writer of the year in 1992. She writes two mystery series, four novels featuring Molly Bearpaw and five with part-Cherokee Police Chief Mitch Bushyhead. In MASKED DANCERS, Mitch’s sixteen-year-old daughter Emily and two of her friends find the dead body of a Department of Wildlife officer in a cave in a woods just outside the little town of Buckskin.

In investigating the apparent murder, Mitch begins to unravel long-held secrets and intrigues among the Buckskin area residents. All he finds near the cave is a recently dead eagle, killed with an arrow, and a tiny snapshot of a woman’s face, enclosed in a plastic holder with a hole at the top as though for being strung on a necklace or keyring. No one the police chief asks seems able to identify the woman, but the dead eagle leads him to Vian Brasfield, principal of the local high school, who is obsessed with discovering his Cherokee roots and who organizes weekly ceremonies with masked dancers on his land outside town. Brasfield’s neighbor, Dane Kennedy, is a rabid white supremacist who continuously complains about the noise of the dancers and their very existence.

Other dead bodies turn up, and Mitch has trouble finding the connections between events. Several surprises emerge only in the final pages of the novel. During the few weeks of the investigation, Mitch, whose wife had died of cancer two years previously, is also trying to develop a relationship with Rhea Vann, a Buckskin physician, and to deal with his daughter’s attitude toward his new love interest.